What do you see as the greatest challenge for the UMC? What are the greatest opportunities?
The greatest challenge for the UMC is overcoming the lack of trust. The mistrust within the UMC with denominational leadership and the mistrust among people with theologically differing scriptural interpretations are diminishing both our witness and our capacity for connection.
How can we be faithful at this juncture? Trust begins by people being trustworthy. We extend trust to one another. When someone or a group breaks trust, it takes time and commitment to rebuild trust.
Conservatives feel trust has been broken when progressives disregard the present Book of Discipline around homosexuality and officiate same gender weddings and ordain practicing homosexual persons and elect a practicing homosexual bishop. Progressives feel trust has been broken when conservatives lack compassion for gay persons longing to live in the covenant of marriage and/or gifted, equipped, and called to ordination and/or the Episcopacy.
Furthermore, the mistrust created by false narratives of disaffiliating groups contradict the essence of the UMC connection. The option for disaffiliation uncovers disgruntlement from churches wanting autonomy, independence, and control over their money and choosing their pastor. Groups suing the UMC over the trust clause is like suing over what a paternity test reveals. The trust clause is at the core of our DNA shared life together. Our connection is threatened when we no longer value our life together more than we value our life apart.
The greatest opportunity before the UMC is to create a church that is welcoming and affirming of all people. By removing the hurtful language around homosexuality, we become a church that allows churches and pastors to live in their convictions WITHOUT casting stones at each other.
Many of us have been on this discernment journey for wisdom and understanding regarding homosexuality for decades. My transformation (change of heart and mind) surfaced out of years of prayer, communal discernment, pastoral care for LGBTQ persons, traveling to other contexts, and seeking the Holy Spirit’s revelation through the tenor of scripture. My clarity emerged through prayer. I asked God why it is that people’s hearts and minds often change when someone they love (usually a child) comes out. In a clear moment of hearing, the Holy Spirit said, “Because they finally see my children as I see my children.” The Spirit confirmed where my scriptural study and communal discernment were leading. And I know many of our United Methodists are struggling and need time and space in this discernment journey.
Can we allow folks who disagree to remain together without vilification? If the 2024 General Conference lifts restrictions in the Book of Discipline around homosexuality, I pray churches who have longed for full inclusion will be patient with those churches who still wrestle. And churches practicing full inclusion will offer to be a place to marry and lift up LBGTQIA+ persons for ordination and stand in the gap for those churches and clergy not there yet.
The greatest opportunity for the UMC is to reclaim the gift and celebrate being a big tent church with a clear mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our toxic American culture steeped in divisive politics has bled into the church and shaped the UMC. We have an opportunity to change the tide as we stand together as disciples of Jesus, with the mission as our highest collective calling, accompanied by the Risen Christ, valuing our beautiful diversity.
I dream of a church for all people celebrating differing abilities, skin colors, cultures, sexual identities, socio-economic strata, educational backgrounds, and theological perspectives. I see the opportunity to delve deeply into our Wesleyan theology and polity with all the strands of personal piety and social holiness, head and heart preaching, connectional world changing generosity, and structures of oversight and accountability.
I see the opportunity for the church to become nimble in her new expressions of worship, communal life, and mission. Collaborative clergy and lay leadership take on a posture of permission-giving instead of fearful road-blocking and paralyzed risk-managing.
I see creative opportunities for every United Methodist mission station to steward the bricks and mortar to serve the needs of people on the margins. I see a new opportunity for local churches to intentionally give ourselves away through sharing our multiplicity of buildings with community partners.
I see the opportunity for the connection to take risks and fail forward. From general agencies to local churches, it’s time for us to take bold change steps instead of fear-filled incremental changes of self-protection and preservation. Our global governance structure is creating more harm than good as shared life can disintegrate into colonialism. I welcome a new governance structure that celebrates every region with an intentional eye toward mission and mutuality for partnership.
I pray that all who remain United Methodist and who embrace our diversity of theological thoughts, races, cultures, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities, and regional contexts, will commit to lives of unity gifted by the Holy Spirit. No more vilification. No more demonization. When the UMC emerges from General Conference in 2024, may the Holy Spirit overwhelm us with a spirit of generosity toward one another so that the world is captivated by the counter cultural love we bear.
“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
— John 17:22-23